$7.2 Million Verdict In Medical Malpractice Lawsuit About Infant's Brain Injury

 By: J. Hernandez
Fetal distress is a phrase that refers to a pregnancy complication in which an unborn baby is in experiencing problems in the womb. A commonly occurring type of fetal distress happens when the amount of oxygen that is reaching the baby is restricted in a way that may endanger the baby. This is referred to as hypoxia, a condition that can result in brain damage and possibly death if the situation is not diagnosed without delay and either corrected or the baby is born (typically through an emergency C-section). A possible sign of fetal distress is the existence of meconium (dark green fecal matter that usually does not appear until the baby is born) in the amniotic fluid. Another potential indicator is a significant fall in the fetal heart rate (to less than healthy levels). A fetal heart rate monitor can be used to track the baby's heart rate.

Take a look at the following case:

An expectant mother was admitted to the hospital for labor and delivery. The physician had not yet arrived at the hospital and so the woman was examined by a nurse who noticed both the presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid and abnormal readings from the fetal heart rate monitor. The heart rate tracings indicated fetal distress. The nurse called and apprised the doctor. Even with this information, however, the physician opted to hold off going to the hospital. He did not ask that another physician take over and instead instructed the nurse take away the fetal heart rate monitor, the one essential technology that could furnish information about the status of the baby.

Seven hours passed before the doctor ultimately got there. The physician at last saw the expectant mother only to pass her treatment over to a covering doctor. Upon learning of the nurse's observations that doctor performed an emergency C-section. The damage had already taken place. The baby now had brain damage. The baby had experienced a lack of oxygen for too long and had sustained brain damage by the time the covering physician performed the C-section. The baby was left with permanent disabilities including the retardation of mental and physical abilities, the need for a feeding tube, and a seizure disorder. The law firm that handled this claim documented that they took the case to trial and achieved a $7.2 Million verdict, interest included.

As this case illustrates occassionally doctors and nurses do not act with the urgency commensurate with the risk that certain labor complications present. What occurred in the situation discussed above is beyond comprehension. First, despite the fact that the physician was advised about a number of abnormal signs by the nurse the doctor not only decided to hold off on going to the hospital but actually instructed the nurse to disconnect the monitor - the one source of critical information about the health of the unborn baby. It is almost as if the physician did not want to be informed of further indications of complications.

The nurse could have advised another doctor of the circumstances. Instead, the nurse deferred to the physician's rank and authority. After finally showing up at the hospital and seeing the woman the physician passed her care to another doctor. However, despite the fact that by all evidence the other physician acted appropriately, it was too late to prevent permanent harm to the newborn.

An unborn child is at risk of severe and irreversible injuries when physicians and nurses fail to take immediate action when confronted with indications of fetal distress. The case additionally demonstrates that when this occurs these physicians and nurses may be held liable for not taking proper actions and therefore not meeting the applicable standard of care. This is the level of professional responsibility to which we hold physicians and nurses. As soon as they fall short and their actions or lack of actions lead to an injury to an infant they may be liable under a medical malpractice claim. Due to the seriousness of the injury to the baby the recovery from such claims can be substantial.
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